Using Speedlight

Last academic year we tested speedlights in different ways – pointing it directly to the subject, bouncing from a wall or a ceiling, using a diffuser and a bouncing card.

This time we had some short tests to refresh knowledges with the difference that we used handmade bouncing cards generously supplied by our lecturer – cardboards with elastic bands. Below are 2 examples with the same camera settings (f/9, 1/125s, ISO 100) without and with the speedlight. First one is obviously underexposed (about 2 1/3 stops) while the second is correctly exposed, light  and shadows are soft due to the bouncing card.

It’s a good alternative to a softbox or to bouncing flash from a wall or a ceiling, especially when there’s no surface to bounce from or it has a colour cast. The technique could be very useful when shooting events such as weddings and conferences. The card is cheap or free, as to weight it’s very light and handy because there’s no need for lighting stand or any assistance.

Next we learned how to fire a speedlight remotely using E-TTL II metering system. In that case camera built-in flash (or on-camera speedlight set as Master and if compatible with the system) acts as transmitter while remote speedlight (or speedlights) set to Slave performs the function of receiver. We put pop-up flash on minimum power and remote flash on full power to avoid bright direct light.

My camera doesn’t have wireless flash capabilities so  I worked together with peers to understand how the system works. My conclusion concerning E-TTL II system is that it’s handy, does the job, no need to buy and to carry any additional equipment. On the other hand, the system is based on infrared communication between Master and Slave which means that Slave has to ‘see’ a signal (either direct or bounced light) from Master and in some cases it’s hardly achievable and uncomfortable.

Later we moved to testing speedlights with triggers. We used a kit which includes hot shoe mounted transmitter, receiver connected to the speedlight, stand, brackets and white umbrella which acts as a softbox when firing through it. If shooting outdoors it’s  important to use sandbags to avoid falling and crashing equipment that can be caused by the wind and the windage area of the umbrella.

Below are two photographs without and with the lighting kit. I set ISO 400 to include background to the shot. First image (f/4, 1/40s) has overexposed background (bleached sky) and underexposed subject (model’s face is in the shadow). Second one (f/4, 1/125) was taken using the kit so with the help of a lightmeter I was able to expose both the background and the subject correctly. I find the kit almost as good as studio softbox with the main difference in output power.

In conclusion I’d like to say that I was impressed by the results I’ve got using the kit, photographs benefit in professional and aesthetic way. Furthermore the kit is relatively cheap, compact and light and can be used on location. It’s especially useful when building a ‘stage’ in the studio is time-consuming, expensive and irrational while required environment already exists in available space. It’s also helpful to have such a kit when taking some staged wedding photographs, to set up a photo booth at a party or any other event.

This conclusion drove me to idea of acquiring similar kit, so I made a research on the equipment. Firstly, I wondered if it’s possible to find triggers, maybe not as advanced as the College owns but affordable for me so that I could buy them at once. I came across Yongnuo RF-603 II triggers (I already own Yongnuo flashgun which works fine for me), here is description: Yongnuo RF-603 II Wireless Flash Trigger Set for Canon C3. I also searched for a comparison with previous models because they were even cheaper and found very informative review: YONGNUO RF-603 II – Now Available. I made up my mind about buying RF-603 II, a pair of those cost me less than 20£. Both triggers are identical and have OFF/TX/TRX switch so either of them can work as a transmitter or a receiver. The set also includes shutter release cable so the triggers can work as a wireless shutter release control. I found this purchase is a great value for the money.

Concerning umbrellas I was aware that white one gives softer light than reflective one, so for the start I decided to buy a shoot-through umbrella because most portraits I shoot are calm, vice dynamic. Still I wanted to find out how the size of the umbrella effects lighting. Here is a discussion on the topic: What are the effects of umbrella size? and an article: How to Choose an Umbrella. Considering these sources I decided to buy 40” umbrella – big enough to light quite a big scene and small enough to put it into bag containing flash stand.

As for a stand and brackets I think the main thing at the moment is to choose those that have metal mounts to avoid broken equipment.

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